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Divorce is hard on everyone. The adults inevitably feel that trust has been broken. The children are worried about losing a parent. It may feel like the man you once loved will never agree with you about anything ever again. Before you consider forcing your soon-to-be ex to sign a settlement agreement, it is important to understand what a settlement agreement is and what happens if he does not.
What Is a Settlement Agreement?
A settlement agreement is an attempt made by divorcing adults to agree on the financial and parental terms of their marriage. Those terms may include:
If both parties agree to the settlement agreement, then the court usually approves the agreement as is, provided it covers all the key issues that the court deems necessary. Court costs are kept at a minimum, and no undue stress is put on the broken family. However, the settlement agreement is not legally binding until after the court approves it. That means, even if you coerce him into signing it today, you are not out of hot water. He can change his mind at any moment up until the judge approves it.
While it may reduce the divorce process, legal costs, and tension between rivaling spouses, divorcing adults cannot always come to compromise on the terms of a settlement agreement. It is not the end of the world. You can go to court and the judge will make the decision for you.
No one, not even the judge, can force your spouse to sign a settlement agreement. He has the right to contest the terms in full or in part. If you cannot come to a compromise, your only recourse may be to prepare for a trial.
Alternatives to a Trial
Before you give up and go to trial, consider alternatives such as professional mediation or arbitration. A mediator will sit down with both parties and try to iron out the differences. For example, if he wants to keep the house, the mediator may be able to convince him to take on more of the marital debt to compensate you for your loss of ownership in the home. Keep in mind, though, mediation is not binding. You spouse can still change his mind.
Arbitration is similar to mediation in that it is a method of settling disputes outside of an official court proceeding. With arbitration, an arbitrator considers the facts and determines the terms of the settlement agreement. Typically, the couple agrees upfront to the terms of arbitration, such as whether the arbitration is binding, just like a court decision, or not binding, meaning he can still renege.
Another alternative is a partial settlement agreement. If you are mostly in agreement, you can sign a partial settlement agreement and leave it to the judge to work out the details in contention. This method may reduce the duration of a trial, as well as diffuse hostile feelings because both parties walk away feeling like they have won major points.
Divorces can turn ugly quickly. Sometimes, simply having an attorney on your side can puts some distance between you and your spouse, effectively adding a barrier. Attorneys can also take some of the emotion out of settlement agreement negotiations, and that may be enough to convince your spouse to come to an equitable arrangement.
At worst, an attorney is knowledgeable with contested divorces. He can walk you through the steps, and help you present a case to the judge that the terms you want are a reasonable compromise to a bad situation.